Putting choice back on the menu at The Bay Church

Volunteers set out food on tables at The Bay Church.

With neighbors guiding shopping carts around tables filled with fruits, vegetables, bread and other pantry goods, food distributions at The Bay Church don’t look all that different from a visit to a farmers’ market or the local store – and that’s the whole point. 

“They get a cart and grocery bags and they go through freely from table to table… they get to squeeze their tomatoes and all that,” said Norma Gaitan, who coordinates food security programs for the church. “Our big focus is on restoring dignity. We want them to feel like they’re at their grocery store, not like they’re standing on a food line.”

The food pantry at the Bay Church is what’s known as a “choice pantry.” Instead of receiving a pre-packed bag of food, visitors to the food pantry are able to pick out items for themselves, based on their household needs and preferences. On a recent Saturday, shoppers (as they’re referred to by staff and volunteers) browsed a selection of veggies that included poblano peppers, fresh basil and salad greens, bagging items that best fit their own diets and tastes. 

Rose, who was shopping at the church for the first time, said she hadn’t expected to have so many options available –  especially for fresh foods that have been difficult for her family of three to afford lately. 

“I’m glad to come here and get some things that I can’t buy in the stores…” she said. “The eggs, tortillas, all the vegetables, everything is expensive.” 

The power of choosing

The Bay Church is one of more than 260 local nonprofit agencies who partner with the Food Bank to serve our neighbors in need. We help provide food and logistical support, and our partners provide a deep understanding of their local communities and their needs.

While many of our agency partners switched to pre-packed bags and boxes of food during the pandemic for health and safety reasons, choice pantries like the one at The Bay Church are making a return across Contra Costa and Solano Counties. 

These pantries give neighbors the ability to pick foods that are right for their diet and culture – whether they avoid specific ingredients like pork or beef, prefer carrots to cauliflower, or live alone and simply need less food than someone feeding a family of five. 

Because The Bay Church participates in the Food Bank’s grocery recovery program, it’s also able to offer a lot of choice for some types of food. Instead of having one kind of bread, the pantry often has a mix of bread, bagels, flatbreads and more – depending on what the grocery store had in stock that week.

Norma says it’s that combination that makes a choice pantry so powerful. Not only do neighbors have more agency when they get to pick the food they want – they also have enough variety that those choices feel meaningful, just like they do at the store. 

“The pressure people are feeling right now with the price of food in the supermarkets… they just don’t know how to make it work,” she says. “So when they come up and see the variety of things we have for them, it’s special.”

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 Your gift to the Food Bank also supports a network of 260 local agencies like The Bay Church, who fight hunger with us every day. Give today and make an impact that’s community-wide.